Thursday 31 December 2009

What Drives Me to Write

Over at My Quality Day, Sharkbytes has written about why she writes. It’s quite a lengthy post, but I very much enjoyed reading it.

And it got me thinking about why I write. I thought back down the years a very long time. When I was & years old I wrote a poem that was hailed as brilliant – for a seven year old. I can only remember the first verse now. It went like this.

Like a mist of darkness
Night falls fast.
But you need not be afraid,
It will not last.

Anyway, as I was too shy, my teacher read it out to the whole school and my head nearly burst with pride. (It was fluke of course, as far as poetry goes anyway.)

At eleven, I went on to a grammar school. A couple of years later, again I had a piece of creative work read out, but only in class this time. It was a monologue by a young boy, based on a play about a strike. We’d been told to write from the point of view of one of the minor characters.

Many years later, as a mature student on a media studies degree course, my adaptation of The Monkey’s Paw for radio was again read out as an example of good use of the medium. I was so much older then, but I felt exactly the same as I had when I was seven and 14.

There were other times too, like when we produced some plays for TV that I’d written, also at college. And I’ll never forget the letter from a features editor who accepted my first article and said how much she loved it.

So I think that’s why I write. I love stringing the words together, and striving for that proud feeling again. There’s just nothing in the world like it.

Wednesday 30 December 2009

Bacon and Herb Ratatouille

Once every month or so, I cook up a healthy ratatouille and divide the leftovers into individual servings to freeze. Recently I decided to experiment with some extra ingredients that needed to be used up. It was so good I thought I’d share this tasty version of the healthy dish, cooked quickly and easily in a microwave


1 aubergine, washed and cut into chunks
50ml olive oil
1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced into small pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
2 courgettes, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 large can chopped tomatoes
125 gms smoked lardons, dry-fried for 3 minutes and drained on kitchen paper
small handful basil leaves
large handful rocket
seasoning to taste

Put the aubergine and oil into a deep microwavable dish. Add the pepper, onion and garlic and mix well. Cover and cook on high for five minutes. Stir, add the courgettes and cook on high for ten minutes. Stir and add the tomatoes and bacon. Cook on high for another five minutes. Stir in the basil and rocket. Before serving, season to taste and reheat for a few minutes in the microwave.

Serve with noodles, pasta or rice. For vegetarians, omit the bacon, of course. A standard ratatouille is good topped with lashings of grated cheese.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

A Wintry Mood

We drive through the wood
where the trees stand naked.
Stark leafless branches
twist and snake towards the grey
sunless sky.

We drive past the fields
bare of crops and sludgey.
Rain falling dankly.
Thin hedge revealing brown
sullen earth.

We slide on wet roads.
Flashes light the puddles
dull green and greasy.
Matching our hopeless mood
this winter.

Monday 28 December 2009

Christmas Memories

I do hope you all had a great Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of the year. Hope it was better than mine anyway. It was a bit of a disaster for several reasons. The main one was that both my son and I were sick. On Christmas Day, we both managed to eat some of the celebration roast turkey and all that goes with it. After that I threw up and he went to bed and slept till the next day.

I had been wondering why I’d been feeling so exhausted trying to get everything ready for a family Christmas. It was hard work but I’d done it so many times before without getting so tired. On the 23rd, when my daughter and granddaughter were due to arrive, my last chore was to vacuum the bedrooms after which I literally collapsed.

I’d had a cough for a week or so as well, and this got worse, plus I felt like I was aching all over – you know what fluey cold is like. Anyway, now I had help from my daughter and she ended up shouldering most of the catering, although I battled on as much as possible. And I left her on her own during the evenings as I just had to get myself to bed and try to relax.

On Christmas morning hubby fetched my son and his girlfriend who live nearly an hour’s drive away, near where my last house is. Then we discovered that he wasn’t well either. But at least we were all together for a while. They stayed the night and went home the next day.

The other two left today, a day earlier than planned, and I’m feeling a bit low, so I decided I must try to find some good things to remember about it all. So here we go:

• My children and I got together for the first time for quite a while
• Everyone seemed to get presents they were happy with.
• Eryn was thrilled with her Wii, to which lots of family members had contributed
• On Boxing Day, we found a park with two witches’ hats where we could sit in a café drinking hot coffee and watch young Eryn having the time of her life, then go and walk on the sandy beach before we had to run back to the car to escape a shower. It was exhilarating and good to be out of the house, even if I did crash out afterwards.
• Yesterday we enjoyed the children watching Jack and the Beanstalk as much as watching the pantomime itself.
• Finally, since I had no appetite for the Christmas treats, I can take my belt in a notch instead of having to let it out and go on a crash diet just to get back to normal.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Help a Charity at this New Auction Site

This is a Sponsored Post written by me on behalf of Bidazzled. All opinions are 100% mine.

If you live in the US, here’s a chance to get some bargains while you support a cancer charity. Bidazzled has been set up to support The Ruch Foundation, a support site for people with lung cancer and their families and friends. They say they pass on 70% of their profits.

Most of us have been touched by cancer in some way. I had a father-in-law who died from lung cancer, so this sort of thing is quite dear to my heart. is an auction site with a difference. First you purchase a pack of bids, priced from $25. Then you can apply your bids to items offered, which can be name brand merchandise. Bidding starts at under $1 and the price goes up slightly with each bid and everyone else is given a few more seconds to bid. When there are no more bids, the auction closes. Looks like it’s good fun.

Winners get their items shipped for free, and typically save about 80% of retail prices; or they can often choose to keep the item in circulation for the charity by selling it back to Bidazzled for cash or more bids Everyone who doesn’t win gets 50 bonus bids just for taking part, so there are no losers.

There are other benefits too. There’s a complicated referral programme where you earn a number of bids depending where you are in the referral hierarchy. Everyone who registers gets 5 free bids, and 2 people have already each won a Nintendo Wii. But until January 15th, you’ll get a total of 15 free bids by entering this code on the registration page.

There’s no obligation to buy more bids, so you might as well. And then see what fun you can have while you are supporting The Ruch Foundation.

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Tuesday 22 December 2009

Summer Winds

The weather is so cold and frosty, snowy for some, in the UK. I’m hoping my daughter will not have any problems driving down from London tomorrow, when she brings my granddaughter for their Christmas visit.

In the meantime, I thought I’d look for something different about the weather, and something uplifting to look forward to. I found these two verses in my haiku diary from last year, and the photo is of Tintinhull garden in June.

In May

lacy tree tops dance
partnered by amorous winds
and flying blossom.

In June

tree branches roll, like
wave tops in stormy weather.
Flowers gaily prance.

Monday 21 December 2009

A Special Visitor

Our bare garden is particularly good for viewing all the birds that visit the neighbourhood. The mature garden next door with lots of hanging feeders attracts blackbirds, tits, sparrows and I have counted six goldfinches at one time. They all scatter when the magpie flies in.

The last couple of days has seen two new visitors. One was a magnificent mistlethrush. The other had us puzzled. It looked like a robin without a red breast but as it fluttered around the flowering palm over the fence at the end, we could see flashes of red. Then as it hopped around on the ground in our area, I thought the red part was under its tail.

I went on the RSPB site today and was delighted to discover that it is a black redstart, which is on the amber list of Birds of Conservation Concern. Apparently there are fewer than 100 breeding pairs left in the UK.

The photo is by Lhgergo at Wikimedia.

Friday 18 December 2009

Walking Spurs the Muse

This is something I wrote early this year. I have to tell you that because if you know anything about the UK, you'll know it's not snowdrop time yet.

"I have been reading books about the writing life by Julia Cameron and Dorothea Brande. Both these authors are in tune with each other and have similarities. For instance, they both recommend early morning free writing. And they both recommend walking to get some inspiration. Ms Brande suggests trying to look at what you pass with the eyes of a stranger, and making up descriptions as you walk.

This works well with my current practice of trying to get out for a short brisk walk every day, and today I tried it out. Stupidly, I didn’t take a notebook and pen, but here are some snippets I can remember.

Tall, lean silver birch, feathery fronds bending earthwards.

Sentinel trees, standing to attention.

Fields bounded by straight-clipped, gnarled hedgerows, bare of green except where rampant ivy climbs.

Snowdrops clump on the river bank, their bright white contrasting sludgy earth and grey, running water.

Now they are written down, perhaps I’ll get to use them somehow."

Unfortunately, not yet. But perhaps I will now I've come across this again.

Thursday 17 December 2009

What to Do with Stale Doughnuts

(This mouthwatering pic is by Kronn at Wikimedia Commons.)

Last week hubby came home with a packet of mini jam doughnuts. He just saw them in the shop and fancied one. We are great believers in ‘a little of what you fancy does you good.’ And these were MINI doughnuts.

There were four in the packet. We had no family or friends visiting, so when we’d had our quota of one each, there were two left. And of course you know doughnuts have to be eaten fresh. They don’t last overnight.

I can’t bear to waste food and the next day I didn’t want to throw away those doughnuts. After research and improvisation, I came up with the following recipe. It made pudding for two days. On the first day we had it with warm stewed apple, and the second day I heated it in the microwave and poured hot custard over it. We loved it.

Preheat oven to 180º
Grease a tin or ovenproof dish
Cut the doughnuts into small pieces
Dot them with butter, bertolli spread or your choice of butter substitute
Arrange them in the greased dish
Sprinkle them with currants or raisins
Beat two eggs in a measuring jug
Make it up to half a pint with milk
Stir in a dessertspoon of sugar
Pour over the doughnuts
Bake for about 25 minutes until just firm and browned on top.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Cabby Story - as Told to Me

Pic by David Iliff is of a black cab in London.

Scene: Taxi rank at the railway station. Elderly woman approaches the first taxi in line and speaks to the driver. She is followed by a man who stands and waits behind her.

Woman: Could you pick me up at a quarter to eight tomorrow morning.

Cabby: Where do you want to go?

Woman (haughtily): That’s my business.

Cabby: If that’s the case then, Madam. I can’t help you.

Woman (taken aback): What do you mean; you can't help me?

Cabby: Well the thing is, I have to be at Mesley (village 10 minutes drive away) by ten past eight to take a regular customer to work.

Woman: Oh. Right. Well I just need to get to the National Express stop.

Cabby: Would that be the one opposite the newsagents in Station Road?

Woman: That’s right.

Cabby: In that case, I can take you. Where do want picking up?

Woman: Mayflower House.

Cabby: And where’s that, then?

Woman: You mean you’re a taxi driver and you don’t know. It’s been there for over 400 years.

Cabby (who’s been driving the area for just 12 years): Sorry, I don’t think I have picked up from a Mayflower House.

Woman: It’s next to the MOT garage.

Cabby: Which one? Exmarsh? (There are about 4 MOT garages in this small town.)

Woman: (exasperated) No. No. Queen Street. By the old post office.

Cabby: Ah. I know that old post office. (It was the second one in the town to close.)

Woman: That’s Mayflower House.

Cabby: Well I never.

Woman: You will be there at quarter to eight?

Cabby: Yes I’ll pick you up there at 7.45 tomorrow morning.

Woman walks off.

Cabby (to male passenger standing and patiently waiting): Sorry about that sir. It’s quite painful sometimes trying to get the information I need. If she’d said the old post office in Queen Street, I’d have known right away. Now, where did you want to go sir?

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Adgitize Affiliates

Today I learnt how to earn by becoming an adgitize affiliate. That just means putting an ad on my side bar that takes you to the adgitize sign up page. Every time someone signs up when they have clicked my ad, I will earn, and then I'll earn a bit more commission from them each month.

You could do it too. All you have to do is click my add, sign up and put the ad on your sidebar. What a doddle.

I was already enamoured of Adgitize which has me earning through clicks as I do my EC dropping. I wish I'd taken a bit more time to check out the rest of the Adgitize opportunities a bit sooner.

Monday 14 December 2009

Christmas Exhaustion Has Got Me

Boy do I feel tired. Too tired to drop or adgitize much tonight. It'll have to be bed for me soon. Sorry folks.

After breakfast and when the off to work traffic had settled down, we went out to find an electric fire. With more space here there's more to keep warm and even with the central heating it's not as cosy as our last house. The previous owners left a black hole which had obviously been for a fire although there is no chimney, and it's not an outside wall, so it has to be electric. Anyway, we ordered one and it should be ready for collection tomorrow and we can get it set up. Not that I'll have any time to sit in front of it. But I wanted it here well before my family comes for Christmas.

Then we had something else to sort out. Five months into our move and we still haven't sorted out our TV reception. The previous people here used a Sky cable service, but I am loath to have a monthly payment as I only watch for about an hour a day, being too busy in front of my computer screen the rest of the time. Hubby watches even less. There is also a TV aerial (not up to date) which currently gives us very limited access to programmes. And there is a satellite dish on the roof of the extension.

So this morning we bought a freesat box, followed all the directions to set it up - and got nothing. Hunted through the directories for someone who might help, phoned and he is coming tomorrow morning. I expect (hope) we'll find we've connected it to the wrong cable. If the dish is no good I guess I'll be forking out even more money to keep my family happy this Christmas, and have nothing left from my earnings for the last couple of months.

I've been inundated with writing work from one old and one new client, so spent the rest of the day on all that before breaking off to cook an eat with hubby. Now he's doing the washing up, bless him. I've now thought of two more Christmas cards that need sending. The ironing is piling up; loads of presents need wrapping; more have to be bought; there is paper to be sorted everywhere; we haven't even thought about decorations or food yet.

But darn it. I'm just too tired. Good night.

Friday 11 December 2009

A Doggie Tipple Story

Christmas approaching reminds me of Bramble, a tan and white springer spaniel who is our delightful charge when we dogsit for Rob, her owner. We had her for the day on Boxing Day last year.

But we had seen her on Christmas Eve at our local pub. Because it was Christmas, she had been given a special treat of a bowl of Guinness, and during the hour we were there I saw her come back to it about three times. Miraculously the bowl always seemed to be full.

In between she did her usual trick of poncing for the biscuits that are kept behind the bar for her. She knows just what a soft touch I am and usually focuses her attention on me when I’m there, sitting close to me and fixing me with her great soulful eyes, head cocked to one side. Every so often she will rise up and gently tap my lap with a front paw. Eventually I give in and get her a biscuit, which she is allowed to eat when she has given me each front paw in succession.

When Rob brought her to our house on Boxing Day morning, he told us how the Guinness had affected her. Walking home they always stop at the kerb before crossing the roads. That night, each time when sitting she gradually leaned further over before subsiding in a heap in the gutter, fortunately not in the path of any oncoming vehicles. At home, she just managed to reach her basket before slumping into it and falling asleep.

On Boxing Day morning she was her usual rumbustious self, but I wonder if she had a hangover on Christmas day morning.

We’ll miss her this Christmas now that we’ve moved house and she isn’t close by.

The photo isn't Bramble, but a dog that looks quite like her. It's from Wikimedia Commons by The Boy that time forgot.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Adgitize and Entrecard

You may have noticed that I am stepping up my blogging schedule at the moment. That’s because I’ve now joined the adgitize brigade and I get points each time I post, so it gets me closer to payout. No sure how long I can keep it up because I’m cheating a bit and using old posts from my Writelink blog which were lost to my readers on the changeover to a new site. But I still have them on my PC.

I’m also dropping more entrecards because I have a new way of bloghopping so that I can do adgitize clicks as well. I used to just go through my EC inbox. Now I start there and click when I find an adgitize ad. The beauty of it is that, like me, most adgitizers are entrecarders as well, so we can kill two birds with one stone. Once I’ve done my 100 clicks, which I never thought I’d get round to, I go back to my EC inbox and there are just a few left. So my EC dropping has gone up from around 60 a day to around 140.

I still try to read the ones that really grab me. But the downside is that I don’t have as much time to comment as I used to do, especially as it’s a busy time of year. I’ve also picked up some more writing work, which of course has to get priority. No doubt there will come days when I can concentrate more on commenting again.

Anyway, I really love the blogosphere, and can’t imagine what I did with my time before I found it.

PS. The pic above is an old one of Lyme Regis harbour at the cob, where I went to meet my sister today to exchange Christmas presents.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

What You Find When You Move House

When I was packing to move house earlier this year I found a box of papers in the top cupboard in my bedroom. Sitting on the top was an exam paper for Option 1, Arts for the CNAA Certificate in June 1978. I’d had three hours to answer four questions, and I’d put crosses against the ones I attempted.

These were the questions I apparently answered:

1. (Marlowe) “His own worst enemy”: does this homely phrase account for Faustus’ damnation or is it at all possible to see him as a victim of circumstances?
2. (Shakespeare): Trace the degradation in Macbeth’s character from the murder of Duncan to his own death.
3. (Milton): To what extent can “Samson Agonistes" be seen as an attempt to reconcile Biblical themes of purification through suffering with the Classical dramatic form?
4. (Dickens): Mr Jaggers announced that PIP, in consequence of his great expectations, was “to be brought up as a gentleman.” What do you think Dickens meant us to understand by “gentleman”, and which of Pip’s male acquaintances, then and thereafter, could help him to acquire real gentility?

I have no idea what I put in my answers, but I did pass. I don’t think for a minute that I could do it today.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

A Fishy Story

Salmon pic is from Wikimedia Commons by Joe Mabel

One day I was browsing a secondhand bookstall and my eye was caught by that extraordinary book that everyone was talking about last year. (Or was it the year before? Quick check to find publication date was 2007.)

Anyway that’s how I came to be reading Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday.

This must be the funniest, yet most deadly serious book I’ve ever read. It’s about: politics and civil servants, international relations, spin, power at the top, power of the media, love and marriage, money and high finance, science, war, terrorism, assassination and accidental death. Oh yes, and salmon. And it’s absolutely HILARIOUS.

I'm not going to spoil the story by telling you any more about it. If you’ve read it already, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, go out and find it as quickly as you can.

If you read quickly enough, you could always pass it on to someone else as a present for Christmas or whatever you celebrate.

Monday 7 December 2009

Catching Up Again

I'm just back from a great long weekend with my daughter and granddaughter. Have caught up with some friends over lunch, taken in the show Blood Brothers in the Phoenix Theatre in London's Charing Cross Road, and done quite a bit of Xmas shopping. Took the train home and now I have so much catching up to do.

In the meantime, here are some more Nile pics as I promised to Anna who commented on my last post.

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